Douglas Street (Doug Clement Photography)

The Strathcona, which also houses popular bars Sticky Wicket and Big Bad Johns, closed its doors this past weekend citing staffing shortages; it is set to resume service today.

But the closure should come as no surprise to anyone within the service industry.

Since Step 3 of BC’s Restart Plan, restaurants and bars have been grappling with staff shortages which experts say is due to uncertainty of the pandemic and workers pivoting their career choices.

“A lot of people have exited the industry,” said Ian Tostenson, President and CEO of BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

“Even before the pandemic we were short workers. Now, we have less than half. It’s become a lot worse.”

Uncertain hours, a lack of benefits or perks and a lack of work-life balance have been just a few main reasons Tosteson said workers are deterred from taking service jobs again.

Among other reasons is the instability of the sector amidst a year and a half of varying COVID-19 restrictions.

“A lot of workers took the CERB payments and it allowed them to take a breath and reevaluate what they wanted to do,” said Tostenson.

Due to the staffing shortage, a lot of businesses are rethinking their business models. As it appears to Tostenson, the old business model has proven unsustainable.

“This isn’t a question of ‘will this get fixed in the next two months or so;’ it’s a tightening of the business model,” he said.

“We have to fight the fire and once again become the employer of choice. We need to commit to something stable that will be the benchmark to getting this industry on its feet again.”

In light of the Strathcona closure, this is harsh reminder that businesses are still suffering, and have been for quite some time.

The staffing shortage is not only a problem for the hospitality industry, but it’s become a problem in many industries—a problem amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What overshadows the [Strathcona] closure is the fact that this is happening in many industries,” said Tostenson.

“It’s going to take at least ten years to catch up.”

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While the solution may appear to be a far cry away, Tostenson is hopeful that with borders reopening and travel resuming that immigration will prove to be a welcome reprieve.

“Immigration would help. Every industry needs it. Immigration is delayed, not stopped. Instead of getting a skilled foreign worker in three months, it takes six months, but it’s bound to get better,” said Tostenson.

While Tostenson has his own ideas of how to solve the hospitality shortage, Mayor Lisa Helps also put in her two-cents in light of the Strathcona closure, wildfires, and COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why?” Helps said in her weekly blog.

“Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.”

Between the housing shortage and the labour shortage, most of all, Helps said, workers on the front lines are exhausted and it’s unclear when they will get any rest.

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